mulga country

I spent last week camping in the arid inland mulga country at Cue in outback Western Australia, 650km north east of Perth. It’s a beautiful red dirt landscape of low scrub dominated by Acacia with many Eremophila species.

a breakaway southeast of Cue township

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Albany Woolly Bush

So many people search for my post about the Woolly Bush hedge in my garden that I’ve compiled all the information you need to grow your own Woolly Bush hedge.

Albany Woolly Bush in its natural habitat at Albany

The Albany Woolly Bush (Adenanthos sericeus) is endemic to the south of WA around Albany and Esperance. It grows well in gardens and due to its tall, thick growth habit it’s particularly useful as a screening plant, whether you want to prune it into a hedge or grow a row of them. There are a few species of Woolly Bush but Albany Woolly Bush is the prettiest, it’s widely available in nurseries and requires little maintenance (if you have the space, pruning is not essential).

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A Shady Hedge

Update: please see this comprehensive post about growing Albany Woolly Bush.

My house wasn’t sustainably designed. It faces east west, which you want to avoid when designing with passive solar principles in mind. The back of my house was once a verandah, but whoever enclosed it didn’t bring their brain to work that day. Glass walls facing west aren’t a good idea. Every summer afternoon my back room bakes, lightly toasting the rest of the house. It’s a nice place to pass the time on a sunny winter afternoon, but during summer the blinds are permanently closed and still my house cooks.

newly planted row of woolly bushes

The solution was a hedge of woolly bushes, not against the windows, but against the back fence a couple of metres from the house. Although I should have done this five years ago, a hedge is now growing to shade my wall of windows. It’s not quite hedge-like at the moment, more a row of foot high plants, but in a few years it’ll be up to 4m high and in need of regular pruning into the hedgely shape I desire.

fully grown woolly bush hedge in my neighbourhood

There is a problem with woolly bushes – their shallow root systems. My friends at Nuts about Natives have a planting of Albany woolly bushes which are all about 4m high and last winter one was uprooted in a high wind. It didn’t cause any damage because it landed among its neighbours. In the last weekend of June this winter the very high winds caused a lot of damage in Perth. The gusts of up to 72km/h uprooted two of a neighbour’s pencil pines which knocked down part of his fence. I hope this doesn’t happen with any of the woolly bushes as my new hedge grows. During the winds of that weekend my tuart was severely buffeted but the flexibility of its young trunk meant it survived without damage. As it grows taller it’s more likely to lose branches and cause damage, but I hope this won’t happen. The tuarts and other gum trees (particularly illyarrie) in the park where I walk Sheeba the dog lost a few branches that weekend.

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Perth’s shrinking Groundwater

Most of Perth’s water comes from the Gnangara groundwater mound (aquifer), stretching from north of Perth to the Swan River, as far south as Fremantle.

The Gnangara Mound is an important source of water for public water supply, irrigated agriculture, parks and gardens, industry and groundwater dependent ecosystems. Groundwater levels across the Gnangara Mound have generally been in decline for the last thirty years. This coincides with a general trend of declining annual rainfall across the south west of Western Australia. [1]

decreasing groundwater levels across the Gnangara Mound
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Is that good wood?

forest protected from logging in Wellington National Park, near Bunbury south of Perth by Andy Graham Last month Go Greener blogged about the GetUp’s campaign to convince ANZ to pull out of financing Gunns’ pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, north of Launceston, Tasmania. Gunns do most of the logging of old growth forests in Tasmania, but until recently I didn’t know that Gunns also logs in WA forests. Gunns’ three WA sawmills were previously owned by Bunnings – the hardware store who would like to take over the world. There was a boycott of Bunnings (Buy-Pass Bunnings) a few years ago over their logging of old growth forests. Campaigning against the current mill owners might prove problematic, Gunns likes SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation).

understorey of jarrah forest near Mungalup, south west of Collie by Andy Graham In 2001 the WA government ended clearing in old growth forests, but this only saved 331,373 hectares of the 2.5 million hectares of total forested land in WA. The way land was chosen to be set aside was secretive and in some cases, farcical. Jarrah/marri forests continue to be logged, and Gunns mills the timber. These forests are a mix of mature trees and regrowth and have been logged sometime in the past. This may have been more than a hundred years ago and these areas currently provide refuge for a diverse range of plants and animals, some of them endangered species.

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Many electricity companies sell power from renewable sources, but depending on where you live, different options are available. Western Australia doesn’t have as many electricity companies as the eastern states of Australia because the industry was only recently deregulated and until a few years ago electricity was provided by a state government owned company.

Perth has only one company which provides electricity. Until I install my own solar panels to generate electricity, I have to use their electricity. I purchase it through their NaturalPower product, which provides energy generated from renewable sources. Synergy Energy says,

When you switch to NaturalPower you will still receive a mix of energy types [coal-fuelled, solar, wind, hydro,etc], as it is not practical to install additional power lines just to carry NaturalPower. However, we guarantee the amount of energy you use will be sourced from renewable sources and will increase the overall amount of renewable energy in the grid. Continue reading

More Desalination?

The Western Australian government is so happy with its water desalination plant in Kwinana, an outer suburb of Perth, that they are planning more plants. This week plans for a second desalination plant were announced at Binningup in the Shire of Harvey, 155km south of Perth and near the regional city Bunbury. This is after WA Premier Alan Carpenter

announced that he had shelved the Water Corporation’s plans to tap the massive Yarragadee aquifer in the state’s southwest.

The scraping of plans to tap the Yarragadee aquifer is welcome news, but I believe desalination is a wasteful use of resources. I discussed this in a comment at The Coffee House and I hope Matt doesn’t mind me repeating what I said, with some additions.

Perth has a dry climate and we can’t rely on rainfall for all our water needs. Thus, Mundaring Weir east of Perth collects rainwater, but other sources include: groundwater mounds and now desalination. The former is dependent on rainfall and so is not sustainable at the levels we extract it. Desalination is resource intensive (the second plant is expected to cost almost $1 billion to build). The WA government is proud that the desalination plants use renewable sources of energy, but these sources could be better used replacing current coal-generated electricity and then managing our water supply, rather than finding more and more sources of water supply.

While other states in Australia have total sprinkler bans, the Western Australian Water Corporation boasts that we don’t have total bans on sprinkler use. This is not something to gloat over, but rather a sign of people living in the past when a pristine lawn in the suburbs was an aspiration for all. Today we should be aspiring toward more efficient water use and recycling the water we do use.

Sydney, on the other side of Australia, has problems with water supply and desalination plants have been discussed as a solution. Patrick Troy, Darren Holloway & Bill Randolph believe desalination is unnecessary and wrote about practical measures to make households water-independent in their article “Saving Sydney’s Water” in the Summer 2005/06 issue of Dissent magazine. They believe households should collect their own rainfall (although this is not as reliable in Perth as it is in Sydney), but more importantly water should be recycled within the household. Recycling water does not mean drinking sewerage (black water). It means re-using grey water (from kitchen, laundry and bathroom) for flushing of toilets, laundry and use in gardens or landscaping. Black water from toilets may be treated on-site in composting toilets, etc (although this is not always feasible).

While household recycling of water is helpful, this only makes up 11% of total water consumption, as determined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in Water Account, Australia, 2004-05. Industry is the main user of water and the agriculture industry uses 65% of Australia’s water.

The ideas discussed by Troy, Holloway & Randolph can be scaled up for use by industry. Grey water would be used for different things and may need in-house treatment. The main point is that every company, factory, farm, etc, as well as every household, is responsible for their own water use and re-use. They may be connected to scheme water (particularly for drinking and washing), but making the best use of water will ensure water, and money, is not wasted. Users of large amounts of water, such as irrigators in agriculture, could be charged higher prices for their use of this precious resource. Some industries, such as rice and cotton, are so water-intensive that they might be better carried out in places with higher rainfall.

Government interventions through integrating water re-use into building codes, incentives for installing the necessary infrastructure, etc could make these ideas a reality. Already the WA Water Corporation provides cash rebates for the purchase of certain water efficient products and rainwater tanks.

The proposed [desalination] project will be subject to a stringent environmental assessment with significant opportunities for public comment.

Community or environmental groups can register their details with the Water Corporation to be advised when publicly available documents are released. And the general public will also be able to comment when these draft environmental scoping documents are available.


Desalination in Kwinana

The premier of Western Australia, Alan Carpenter, officially opened the Perth Seawater Desalination Plant last week on 18 April, in Kwinana, 25km south of Perth. Premier Carpenter said,

Western Australia has become the first state in Australia to use desalination as a major public water source. By harnessing water from the ocean, we have acquired an abundant source of drinking water that is not dependent on rainfall.

The 45 gigalitre per year desalination plant includes seawater intake, pretreatment, reverse osmosis desalination, drinking water potabilisation and pumping station and produces 17 percent of Perth’s water needs. In a news story from last year, the Western Australian Water Corporation said

its desalination plant in Kwinana will help avoid the need for total sprinkler bans in Perth and the south-west.

Desalination is a wasteful use of resources. Despite this, the WA government is hoping to open more desalination plants. WA could avoid total sprinkler bans by using water more efficiently and recycling the water we do use, as I’ve discussed previously.

The Greens (WA) Water Resources Policy 2005 discussed the desalination plant at Kwinana.

The Greens (WA) oppose the construction Kwinana by the Water Corporation of a desalination plant at Kwinana on Greenhouse gas emission grounds.

The plant does use electricity produced by the Emu Downs Wind Farm, 200km north of Perth, but this electricity could be better used in replacing electricity generated from coal, where most of Perth’s electricity currently comes from.

Some of the history of the politics of building the desalination plant can be found at the Perth Water Users Group and one of the group’s founders Warwick Hughes’ website on Perth and Catchments Rainfall History and Water Resources.


Not more advice on how to Green my Life!

I used to have no knowledge of current affairs, but Michael moved in and turned my world upside down. He sabotaged my innocent little tv (that only ever knew DVDs) with a coat-hanger aerial (we don’t waste money on materialistic goods, we make our own!). Now I get sucked into the almighty box every night. I still have a book open in my lap, but those stupid soapies buzz at my ear. The other night some evil “news” program informed me of

the new study [that] shows rainwater tanks are a cost-effective solution to the urban water problems plaguing Melbourne, Sydney and South-East Queensland.

I guess its not always drivel about who shot who today. I looked at the ACF website to read the report prepared by economists Marsden Jacobs Associates for the Australian Conservation Foundation, Environment Victoria and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW. I knew it wasn’t really relevant to WA because we have a dryer climate than the eastern states of Australia, but I still wanted to find out more. But I found something even better! – the Western Australia GreenHome Guide. I considered printing it out, but luckily noticed the 63 pages before I pressed the print button (it was going to be double sided, but I decided to save one tree). There are also guides for three other Australian states, with more to follow, and guides to water and energy saving renovations, at the moment only for NSW.

I’ve been an ACF member for years, but I never got around to going online and signing up for their GreenHome challenge. Maybe one day I will.

I skimmed bits of the WA guide and lots of the suggestions I already do, but I’m sure to find things I didn’t know about or more likely – things that I haven’t yet done because I’m too lazy. The main thing I have to do is have SHORTER SHOWERS! This is a big thing for me because I think I’m genetically programmed to stand under a stream of hot water for a very long time. Will power may not be enough. I think the only way I could overcome this problem is to go on a game show which involves the person taking the shortest shower winning a million dollars. I’m still trying to decide whether it would be on after 9:30pm (sans clothes) or not.


Autumn in Albany

the view south The granite rock formations and caves on the coast around Albany, in the south of Western Australia are amazing to see. Michael grew up in Albany and we went there for the weekend a couple of weeks ago. This was the first time I’ve been to Albany since childhood holidays and although I’ve seen photos of the coast since then, it’s quite a change from the limestone rock formations and caves with which I grew up. And the coast around Albany can be dangerous.

Fishing off the rocks near The Gap This coastline is unprotected from the Southern Ocean. Michael has a few stories of people he knew who died on the rocks and surrounding water and a week before we visited two men were washed off rocks by a king wave. King waves are unexpected and can cover entire parts of the rocks on the coast for a few minutes and wash away whatever’s in their path. The rocks can be slippery because of these waves and the salt residue they leave behind and climbing on the rocks or fishing off them can be treacherous. If a person falls into the water, it’s impossible to climb back up the rocks, you might get thrown back against them by waves and you must swim around the rocks to a sandy beach which can also be inaccessible (and you might have to contend with ocean predators on the way). the sea south of the Natural Bridge the Natural Bridge

Growing up a teenage boy, Michael also has stories of the stupid things he’s done while drunk and sky-larking with his friends on these treacherous rocks. the view south west to Seal Rock from The Gap The Gap
On the day we visited The Gap and the Natural Bridge, in Torndirrup National Park, Michael and I climbed quite close to the dangerous edges and I discovered how breath-taking it is. It’s exhilarating to look down into the blue, blue ocean and think, “I’m glad I’m not being battered by those waves.” I was also glad the breeze was light and the weather fine, although king waves can occur in any weather and at any time of the year. Michael has abseiled on one rock face of the Gap when he was in high school. I wonder if they still let teenagers do that these days, in our litigation-crazy times.

flowering plant a windswept tree growing on the rocks
I bored Michael by taking lots of photos of the plants that cling to life on these wind and wave swept rocks, but I’ll have to come back in spring when they flower to see their full glory. a lizard sunning on the rocks another plant clinging to the rocks We were even lucky enough to catch some animal life because we came (earlyish) on Sunday morning, before the tourist rush. I was also happy to miss the current crop of teenage locals who the night before left their burnouts and empty beer bottles on the rocks and in the carpark.

While we were in the area we also went to Denmark (half an hour from Albany), visited my friend Josephine and her baby Isabel, and skated Denmark’s new sk8park. It rips, although there’s not much shade when the sun’s shining, not that the sun shines much in Denmark :)